I have melanoma. I’ve kept it at bay for 10 years but it is now untreatable. To me the concept of a good death is at the core of this discussion. I don’t think the desire to die well can be dismissed as akin to a lifestyle choice (an oxymoron if ever there was one).
It is a far more complex desire than that. It is a desire to have some real say in the matter of how you die. It is the desire for your wishes to be respected and acted upon. It is the desire for yourself and your family to be spared futile and unnecessary suffering at the end. It is the desire to be fully present for those you love at the moment you leave them.
This is the kind of death I would choose if I could. It might not be everyone’s idea of a good death, but it is mine. “It is the desire to be fully present for those you love at the moment you leave them ”
Of course it is possible and legal for me to take my own life at any time by whatever means. But a lonely and potentially messy suicide is a difficult prospect to contemplate, and that is the coercive power of the current legal framework. It offers no information, protection, or support for terminally ill people who might choose the kind of death I have described above. Nor does it protect and support their families. In fact it would seek to punish them.
The current system mandates the kind of death where decisions about the timing and manner of dying are made by others, within the framework of a medical system that, to the uninitiated, is unpredictable and obscure. I doubt that anyone who hasn’t been handed down a terminal diagnosis can ever fully grasp the depth of anxiety that the prospect of inevitable death induces.
The loss of your own life is unlike any other kind of loss. Surely it is time for this to be understood, and for the dying to be paid the compliment of assuming that they are capable of intelligent decision-making at the time of their greatest need.
- Cory Taylor, first published in The Damage Done, August 2016
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